The Undefinable But Quantifiable Project Success Factor

We are always seeking ways to improve project management and project delivery. Tips and techniques that will strengthen our chances of success, and reduce our risks of blown budgets, schedule slippage, and other costly project rabbit holes. The problem is that our very attempts at ensuring success can sometimes be obstacles in its path. For example, to avoid schedule mishaps, we estimate work, and add contingency, and micro-manage it; and if things begin to slide, we dig deeper into applying additional processes – better estimating, more contingency, more gate checks, and so on. To the point where we end up looking at a much-desired goal, only to say, “impossible, there’s not enough time” before we even take a first step forward.

In the midst of all of the best practices, and tips, and techniques, and yes, even fear, we lose sight of one important fact: processes don’t deliver projects, people do. And people don’t deliver successful projects, teams do.

Websters defines a team as “a number of persons associated together in work or activity”. Respectfully, that’s not a team, that’s a group. But that’s the challenge with teams and teamwork. How do you define it? It’s easy enough to recognize, and to describe the characteristics involved. Most people would intuitively agree that there’s a difference between a “team” and a “group”. It’s just that the difference is often determined by the results achieved rather than the thing itself.

For example, a group of people can work on their respective tasks with little knowledge of or interest in what the other group members are working on. But a team goes above and beyond this. A team will support each others’ objectives, have a high degree of knowledge of whose working on what, and work together to ensure that the team’s efforts, as a whole, are seen as successful. Teams often self-organize, recognizing expertise among members, and concluding that this person can get that task done more efficiently than anyone else; or, similarly, recognizing that seeking a team member’s help can get a better result than working independently. Teams challenge each other, respectfully, welcoming each member’s ideas and contributions, knowing that the collective result is the best result.

So that magic silver bullet for project success that we’re all looking for? Teamwork.

I’ve seen project plans on paper that look absolutely impossible. Not enough resources, too much work, not enough time, too many complexities. And yet, the team makes it happen. I’m not suggesting that teams can consistently work miracles so, hey, no need to plan! At the same time, when faced with a few obstacles here and there, if you have a solid project team, things may not be as dire as they seem. The reality is that even the best planned project will hit some unexpected speed bumps. And all of the templates, and processes, and tool kits at your disposal won’t help you. Invest in your team, and you’ll reap the rewards. In a nutshell, teams want to win. And that can make all the difference.

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself
~ Henry Ford